Sunday, May 27, 2007

I. William Zartman & the Final Solution of the Sahrawi Problem

On 16 May 2007, the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies presented an article in its Africa Policy Forum series titled "Western Sahara – Continuing Standoff." The author of the article, Anna Theofilopoulou, is described as follows:

Anna Theofilopoulou covered Western Sahara and North Africa in the Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations from 1994 to 2006. She worked closely with former U.S. Secretary of State, James A. Baker, III throughout his appointment as Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General on Western Sahara – from March 1997 until his resignation in June 2004.

Ms. Theofilopoulou clearly has an intimate familiarity with the Western Sahara issue, and her analysis of the present situation is one of the better ones that I have read in a while. The whole article is well worth reading, but for the purposes of this post I quote her concluding paragraph:

The Security Council has chosen to deal with this issue by adopting the suggestion by the Secretary-General for negotiations between the parties without preconditions. This is not the first time that the Security Council, when confronted with a difficult choice and crucial disagreements among its members, has bounced the issue back into the court of the Secretary-General. There has been giddy talk among Morocco’s supporters about a “breakthrough,” since the parties have indeed agreed to direct talks. However, given the irreconcilable nature of the positions that each side has brought to the table, what are the chances for these talks to bring about any results? At best, the latest decision by the Security Council promises several more years of stalemate.

I agree with this assessment and can only add that, at worst, war in some form could return to the Maghreb. The Africa Policy Forum actively solicits comments and what really caught my eye was this comment by I. William Zartman directly following the article:

· 1. I William Zartman | May 16th, 2007 at 10:19 pm

Ana [sic] Theofilopoulou’s piece on the Western Sahar [sic] is cogent and well informed, but it stops where it should continue. Sure, Algeria needs to be brought into a settlement. But what settlement? Morocco’s proposal for autonomy is the only proposal ever made by one of the parties including Algeria) that departs from extreme positions and seeks the middle. In so doing, Morcco [sic] takes enormous risks: 1) that its autonomy proposal be viewed as a step toward independence, like East Timor or Palestine, as the UN Secretariat tends to view the solution, and 2) that its proposal be viewed as the new starting position and Algeria then proposing to split the difference, landing on te [sic] Polisario side of the “crest of sovereignty.” The challenge is to flesh out and implement the autonomy plan as a final solution, and inthat [sic] the US, France and Spain are not wrong in supporting the plan. Theofilopoulou does not tell us what to support, only that Algeria (and the PLS) need to be brought in. Into what? Autonomy is a good proposal and we should stick to it.

While fully aware of Mr. Zartman’s lofty reputation as Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution and Director of the Conflict Management Program at Johns Hopkins University, I am somewhat baffled and disturbed by some of his comments regarding Ms. Theofilopoulou’s article and on the Western Saharan conflict in general.

His basic problem with the article is that it does not take a stand, that “it stops where it should continue.” What he means by this becomes immediately clear. He writes, “Morocco’s proposal for autonomy is the only proposal ever made by one of the parties (including Algeria) that departs from extreme positions and seeks the middle.” I find Mr. Zartman’s idea that the autonomy plan “seeks the middle” totally off base. The Polisario Front and Morocco signed a UN-brokered agreement in 1991 calling for a referendum on independence. Given that the UN had been calling for this referendum since the 1960s when the Western Sahara was designated a non-self-governing territory and given that both parties agreed to the referendum, I am at a loss to understand how this proposal to hold a referendum could be considered an “extreme position.”

In fact, for the decade after 1991 the holding of a referendum on independence WAS the “middle,” and both parties considered autonomy “extreme.” A quote by John Bolton, who helped James Baker in the negotiations, is illustrative:

…when Secretary Baker went to the region and asked the King, asked the government of Morocco, asked the leadership of the POLISARIO, "What do you want?" They said, without hesitation and without equivocation, "We want a free and fair referendum." "Want to talk about autonomy?" "No, we don't want to talk about autonomy. We want to talk about a referendum. (Defense Forum Foundation, 1998 Congressional Defense and Foreign Policy Forum, “Resolving the Western Sahara Conflict”)

Mr. Zartman’s view that autonomy is now a commendable middle position that should be supported by all totally ignores the history of how and why Morocco finally rejected the referendum on independence that after all both parties had agreed to. In several stages, Morocco quite simply came to the realization that it would or could lose any referendum, no matter how many concessions were made by the Polisario (and they made several) and no matter how many thousands of pro-Moroccan settlers were added to the voter list. In fact, the Polisario’s acceptance of James Baker’s last plan in 2003 (Baker II) was an incredibly risky concession in that the Moroccan settlers that would be allowed to vote in Baker’s referendum greatly outnumbered the indigenous Sahrawi. And even with the numbers heavily stacked in its favor, Rabat, apparently still convinced it could lose, rejected Baker II, took any possibility of independence off the table, and declared autonomy a noble compromise.

Mr. Zartman makes much of Morocco’s risks in proposing autonomy. For instance he states, “Morcco [sic] takes enormous risks: 1) that its autonomy proposal be viewed as a step toward independence, like East Timor or Palestine, as the UN Secretariat tends to view the solution.” Mr. Zartman is quite right that the UN Secretariat groups the Western Sahara with East Timor and Palestine as places that under clear international law are (and in the case of East Timor were) entitled to independence. What Mr. Zartman doesn’t make clear is why the Western Sahara should be treated differently from the other two, and in particular East Timor. East Timor before independence fell precisely under the same legal framework as the Western Sahara. Both were categorized as non-self-governing territories with the right to self-determination with independence as an option. I would be interested in knowing why Mr. Zartman apparently accepts East Timor’s independence but rejects the possibility of the Western Sahara’s. In any event, his flippant dismissal of international law (“as the UN Secretariat tends to view the solution”) in favor of Morocco’s autonomy plan is disturbing. And in the final analysis what Mr. Zartman is saying is that Morocco's "enormous" risk is that in the end international law just might prevail. How horrible.

In addition, on the question of risk, Mr. Zartman is silent on the risks of the Western Saharans accepting autonomy. Morocco pretty much broke every agreement it made with the Polisario in the decade after 1991. Why should the Polisario trust that Rabat would honor any autonomy agreement, even with constitutional and international guarantees?

I would urge Mr. Zartman to consider the cautionary tale of Eritrea. Eritrea in 1952 (in a situation with far too many eerie parallels to the Western Sahara to go into here) was forced into an autonomy arrangement within Ethiopia – but with seemingly ironclad assurances that Eritrea’s status could not be changed without UN approval. It took little more than a decade for Ethiopia to throw autonomy out the window and fully annex Eritrea, with hardly a whimper from the UN or the world community. And then it took another thirty plus years of unbelievable carnage and misery in the horn of Africa before Eritrean independence was achieved.

Agreeing to autonomy for the Polisario involves, it seems to me, an incredible leap of faith, and if oil one day is discovered in Western Saharan waters does anyone really think that Morocco would continue to allow the Western Saharans to run their own affairs?

Mr. Zartman quickly reaches his conclusion:

The challenge is to flesh out and implement the autonomy plan as a final solution, and inthat [sic] the US, France and Spain are not wrong in supporting the plan. Theofilopoulou does not tell us what to support, only that Algeria (and the PLS) need to be brought in. Into what? Autonomy is a good proposal and we should stick to it.

My impression (and I think Ms. Theofilopoulou’s too) is that no amount of fleshing out will be enough to convince the Polisario to discard their right to self-determination and accept the extreme solution of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. They have international law on their side, and as mentioned above they have every reason to completely mistrust Morocco’s intentions. I don’t think it is farfetched to consider that if the Western Sahara loses its international status as a non-self-governing territory and becomes an “internal affair,” Morocco would have free rein to really bring us a “final solution,” as Mr. Zartman so delicately puts it. And if you feel I am being a bit alarmist here, I suggest you check out the latest Western Sahara reports from Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch to get a picture of Morocco’s brutal totalitarian occupation.

I find it interesting that Mr. Zartman would have us “implement” Morocco’s autonomy plan, without any consideration of what the Western Saharans might think about it nor any mention that the Polisario has already categorically rejected the plan. This seems to be a plan to ram autonomy down the Western Saharans’ throats.

He feels that “the US, France and Spain are not wrong in supporting the plan.” I guess there IS nothing wrong with supporting it, but there is everything wrong with imposing it; and imposing it seems to be very much what Mr. Zartman has in mind. What else could he have in mind given that the Polisario has, I repeat, already rejected Morocco’s plan? Mr. Zartman has no problem with bringing Algeria and the Polisario into the process, but only to discuss autonomy. That smells of imposition to me.

And finally Mr. Zartman finishes with, “Autonomy is a good proposal and we should stick to it.” Good for whom, Mr. Zartman? And your argument that we should “stick to it” appears to be more of an argument to “stick it to” these poor desert people who deserve better.

What I find most disturbing about Mr. Zartman’s statement of support for Morocco’s autonomy plan is that he is a world-famous and prestigious expert on conflict resolution. No matter how nice autonomy might appear on paper, forced autonomy or autonomy outside the context of the Western Sahara’s right to self-determination (with independence as an option) is a recipe for disaster and conflict deterioration.

Mr. Zartman gets on Ms Theofilopoulou’s case about her not telling us what to support, so I will give my view. I can say wholeheartedly that I support a return to the referendum on independence as the basis for a settlement. The UN proposal to hold the referendum has been the only substantive thing the two parties have agreed on in over thirty years. Just because Morocco backed out of the referendum when it realized it might lose is no reason to scuttle this middle ground. The great powers must finally pressure Morocco to honor its agreements and abide by international law. The autonomy plan, that rewards Morocco’s aggression, sidesteps international law, and has little or no discernable support from the Polisario or among the Western Saharans, should be buried very deep in the sands of the Sahara.


  1. Anonymous12:06 PM

    1. Why Morocco would refuse the referundum if Moroccans and Moroccan Sahrawis outnumber other sahrawis ?
    2. If you think it's possible, now, to organize a referendum in the Western Sahara then you are dreaming. There is no way a referundum can be organized their except if a radical change of regime in one or more of the (real) involved parties.

  2. Anonymous12:07 PM


  3. 1a. Because they don't trust the votes of so-called Moroccan Sahrawis. Ali Salem Tamek, and many other long-standing activists in the independence movement, were formally counted as Moroccans by the MINURSO, and they're certainly not going to vote for the king. Morocco would probably still win, but it's not certain, and the margins could be so slim that its whole narrative on Western Sahara ("they LOVE us") would be discredited.

    1b. It's not a matter of "if", it's a documented fact that native Western Saharans are outnumbered. Minurso registered some 80,000 Sahrawis who were original inhabitants, of whom 40,000 were in the territories. Still, according to census data, there's some 350,000 people there. The rest are Moroccans and south-Morocco Sahrawis who have been brought in as settlers to win the referendum. You do the math.

    2a. It doesn't take a change of regime: I don't think either Mohamed VI or Bouteflika (or his military) would be toppled if they lost a referendum fair and square. Do you? Assuming you're Moroccan -- would you want to overthrow the king if it turned out Sahrawis voted for independence?

    2b. And anyway, that's true for all suggested solutions, the autonomy proposal no less than the referendum.

  4. anna_theofilo@yahoo.com9:33 AM

    Thank you for your comments to those by Professor Zartman on my essay on Western Sahara appearing at the CSIS Africa Policy Forum.

    I believe that several of Professor Zartman's comments/questions are being addressed by my subsequent article for the US Institute of Peace.

    Anna Theofilopoulou

  5. Well, Mr. Zartman is, after all, a recipient of the Ouissam Alaouite, delivered by King Mohammed VI.
    He is also the President and Agent
    of The Tangier American Legation Museum and Research Center in Morocco:

    Can we ever find someone impartial and the same time enjoy some kind of Moroccan ties? It seems like impartiality in the Sahara conflict and friendship with Morocco don't go together.

  6. I'm doing research on the present negotiations, and am quite new to the conflict, so to speak. But in my research, and my discussions with UN Moroccan officials and Moroccan nationals, it seems your very valid suggestion that we should return to the referendum will be impossible. Morocco will, according to one person at the UN, "never, never, never allow the Western Sahara to be independent." They are too afraid of Algerian proxy control, security, of course the resources issue, but MOSTLY the fact that the legitimacy of the monarchy is entirely based on retaining the Western Sahara under Moroccan control - and the idea that if they were to lose control, this would create complete unrest and descent into chaos of internal Moroccan politics. These are all valid concerns....So, let us suppose that Morocco will not budge on this, and they continue to enjoy the support and lack of pressure from relevant international parties - then what do you suggest? All of this perfectly aware of the costs on the part of the Saharawis of letting go of the legal right of return/idea of self-determination. I would very much enjoy hearing what you have to say, as this really does feel like an impasse on so many levels!

  7. Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for your comments. You ask me what I would suggest, if one assumes that Morocco will not budge on allowing a referendum on independence and no one pressures them to do so. My answer is simply that I don't suggest anything. It is the Western Saharans who must decide whether to give up the struggle for independence or whether to continue to fight for their rights in one form or another.

    While I suggest nothing, I do have stong views on where the current impasse is leading. The Security Council's decision to refuse to force Morocco's hand has backed the Polisario into a corner. I do not think that the impasse will, however, force the Polisario to settle for autonomy, and I think that the current talks in Manhasset are a joke. The Security Council is telling the Western Saharans in no uncertain terms that to realize the decolonial self-determination that has been promised them, they will once again have to fight and die for it. It is hard to imagine a war with tanks and jets etc., but the determining factor here is how far Algeria, awash in petrodollars and new weapons, will be willing to go. More likely is an increasingly violent insurrection in the occupied territory. We are already seeing some of that.

    In conclusion, I would like to take a look at your assumptions. If 20 years ago you had asked any Indonesian the same questions (about East Timor)you asked the Moroccans (about WS) you would have gotten the very same answers; and East Timor is now independent. The Moroccan crown is a thoroughly corrupt, brutal, and autocratic institution ruling over an impoverished and unstable place that survives from day to day only because of handouts from most notably the US, France, and Saudi Arabia and huge cash infusions from the international drug trade. Even in a situation far from full insurrection, Morocco devotes around half it military to keeping a lid on the WS. If the insurrection were to intensify, it is hard to imagine how the Moroccan economy could support it. Anyway, you see where I'm heading.

    Again, thanks for coming on my blog.


  8. Thanks for your comments, Chasli. I've heard the parallel with East Timor before, but I know so little about it I'm not comfortable with it yet - not knowing the particulars of political, economic, demographic, cultural contexts and Western 'interests' in both places. I guess I just think there have to be a LOT of similarities between conflict situations to be able to predict or anticipate similar outcomes. If you have any suggested reading on the matter, that would be great! As a Palestinian, I hear people throwing around N. Ireland and South African comparisons all the time, without the necessary depth of contextual analysis that can explain for differences and similarities. (There's a well-done comparative book on S. Africa and Palestinians by Mona Younis if you're interested.) That said, maybe it's all really less complicated than we all make it out to be in the end...let's hope things don't get worse before they get better, as people like to believe must be the case. In the end, though, you are right - it is up to the Saharawis themselves to decide what they want and how to go after it. Thanks again for all your thoughts, I've enjoyed reading them.

  9. Anonymous9:38 AM

    On the 31st of March 2009, the Potomac institute for policy studies and the conflict management program the Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) has published a 15 page report entitled: “Why the Maghreb Matters: threats, opportunities, and Options for Effective American Engagement in North Africa”, the introduction of such report reflects the importance of the Maghreb region to the United States of America. The first paragraph of the introduction points out the main concern of the Americans, and their priorities: “The Maghreb matters to the United states for reasons ranging from its strategic geographic position on the Mediterranean and at the western end of the Arab-Muslim world, to the threats posed by the increase of terrorism in the region, to the economic opportunities and resources it offers the US. The US needs a policy to promote American interests in the area by treating the five North African states as a region and working to strengthen the economic and security ties among them – and with the US and Europe- and by taking the lead in promoting a resolution to the Western Sahara region conflict based on the proposal of autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty now on the table at the United Nations (UN) and supported by a bipartisan consensus in the US congress.”( see Why The Maghreb matters 31 March 2009/Potomac institute for policy studies)

    Within few days, and exactly on the 5th of April 2009 the Union of sahraoui journalists and writers responded in a 10 page report entitled “Why the facts Matter” expressing its frustration to the report mentioned above “the Saharawi journalists and writers Union (UPES) would like to express its indignation and frustration with the recent publication of a biased, un-factual, and patronising report entitled “why the Maghreb Matters” (see why the facts matter/The Sahraoui Journalists and writers Union/ 5 April 2009)

    It seems that the American report is a subject to criticism especially by the sahraoui pro Polisario and those who believe somehow that the sahraoui should create their own state in the western Sahara region, having said that I would like to take part in this discussion by saying the following :

    1- The “SADR” is a contradiction with the request by Polisario front for a referendum on self-determination. the unilateral proclamation by Polisario of the SADR is a violation to the international law, particularly that the sahraoui Arab Democratic Republic has no territorial existence, it is set up in Tindouf inside Algeria territories, it has no attribute of sovereignty, and exists only on the territory of a foreign country. As to the recognition of the “SADR” no European country, no Arab and Muslim country apart from Algeria recognizes the “SADR”. An imminent figure of the Polisario front Mustapha Bouh ( who went back to Morocco), admitted the following “we must be clear that the diplomatic campaign was a relative failure in the Arab world and in the Middle East, the Polisario and the SADR were very weak, not even Yasser Arafat wanted to have relations with us, nor did China ….. the majority of the capitals that were to be opening diplomatic relations with SADR were doing under the friendly and insistent pressure of Algeria ( see interview with Mustapha Bouh , 5 august , 2005 with ESISC) .
    As to the number of countries which actually still recognized the “ SADR” is 27 countries after the withdrawal of the recognition of at least 52 countries , among others : Angola, Ghana, Iran, Syria, Peru, Nigeria, India, El Salvador, Kenya (source:

    2- One aspect of the present deadlock is basically a result to the Algerian non commitment to its explicit statement, which says that it does not consider itself as part of the conflict. Facts on the ground show unfortunately that Algeria is the main and strategic supporter of the non elected and non democratic Polisario.
    In his report of 19 February 2002, the former secretary general of the UN Kofi Anan informed the security council on the visit of the Algerian president to Houston on 2 November 2001during which he told the UN secretary general personal envoy James Baker that Algeria and the Polisario are ready to discuss and negotiate the splitting of the territory as a political solution to the dispute over western Sahara. This initiative proves Algiers direct involvement in the conflict .In addition, Algeria continues under the leadership of Bouteflika to exert a direct control on the refugee camps, particularly by strictly controlling and limiting the movement of sahraoui refugees. Algeria and its president should be held responsible for the non-implementation of the convention on the refugees’ status of 1951, by virtue of which any contracting state, which is Algeria in the case of sahraoui refugees on its soil, gives the refugees living regularly in its territory the right to choose to remain, or to move freely.

    In the 28 February 2006 Algeria took part in the festivities of the Polisario for the 30th anniversary of its creation, there is no doubt that Polisario would not organize such a big military parade in Tifariti without the approval of the army approval. For the same occasion Bouteflika seized the opportunity to send a message to the leadership of Polisario where he described Morocco being “the colonizer country”.

    When it comes to the recent developments concerning the Moroccan substantial autonomy proposal. The secretary general personal former envoy for Sahara Van Walsum stated (in his press conference at the headquarter of the UN, after presenting his report to the UN chief) that the Moroccan proposal to grant substantial autonomy to the western Sahara “was the result of an extended political process of national and international consultations” .As to the role of Algeria in the conflict Mr Walsum recognized the pre-eminent role of Algeria, “Algeria has in this whole dossier (Sahara issue) played an absolutely pre-eminent dominant role ever since1975” this is the third time that a senior UN official dealing directly with the western Sahara issue that recognized in a diplomatic Worthing to what extent the Algerians are directly involved in the western Sahara dispute ,and even in the decision making on behalf of the separatist movement called Polisario

    During the last decade a number of Algerian politicians, and even former policy makers and military generals have expressed openly their total disagreement with Boutaflika’s politics towards the future of western Sahara .Anouar Haddam one of the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front told “ALKHABAR” a daily Algerian newspaper “ Sahraouis would never agree to separate themselves from Morocco” . Louisa Hanoun the general secretary of the Algerian labour party said “the western Sahara issue is an artificial problem” she added “Morocco is the only Maghreban country that is facing external plans ton split its territories”.
    The former Algerian prime minister Abdelhamid Ibrahimi, insists that the leadership of the army is behind the dispute over western Sahara dispute, in his latest interview with the daily newspaper “ATAJDID” on the 12 December 2006 he said “the autonomy plan was discussed when I was prime minister with president Benjdid, provided that Morocco preserves its sovereignty over its territory, including foreign and defence policies. The agreement was made, and president Benjdid did not refuse”
    When it comes to the army leadership it is worth mentioning that the former general and defence minister Khalid Nezar advocates a political solution to the conflict, he said “the settlement of western Sahara conflict should be achieved through the application of such substantial autonomy as proposed by king Mohamed VI”
    It seems that although the political leaders and most of the former generals of the Algerian army are explicitly against their president’s policy towards the Sahara, Bouteflika is determined to follow the instructions of the generals with the aim to achieving the strategic goals as seen by the Algerian army intelligence leadership which have nothing to do with the wellbeing of sahraouis

    3- On Wednesday, April 11, 2007 the Moroccan government submitted its proposal for a substantial autonomy for the Western Sahara region to the newly nominated secretary general of the United Nations organization, taking the first step, which the international community has called for repeatedly, toward a political direct dialogue with the parties concerned i.e. : Algeria and the Polisario front.

    The conflict between the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Algerian-backed Polisario front, dates back more than three decades. From 1975 until an UN-brokered cease-fire agreement in 1991.
    The terms of 1991 cease-fire agreement were not fully met until august 2005, when the Polisario, under pressure from the international community released the over 400Moroccan prisoners of war. During their very long capture the Moroccan POW’s faced barbaric torture, and forced labour from both: the Algerian and Polisario military intelligence services. On April 2003, the France libert├ęs foundation led an international mission of inquiry on the conditions of detention of Moroccan POW long held in the refugee camps in Algeria, the French foundation produced detailed accusations of torture, forced labour, arbitrary detentions, and summary executions of captured soldiers, that revealed the true nature of the Polisario front, which had long portrayed itself as a victim.
    Allowing the sahraoui people to vote on a referendum seems like a simple solution, but the Polisario had insisted on restricting the voter lists locked that process into more than six years of fruitless discussion. The UN became aware of the fact that referendum is in practical terms impossible to carry out since sahraouis do not live only in Morocco, but also in Algeria, Mauritania, and Mali. This means simply that there should be a change of these countries borders, in order to organize a just and fair referendum, since the countries concerned would totally reject the idea, the general secretary of the UN confirmed that the organization of such referendum is impossible politically and technically.
    Recognizing this deadlock, the UN shifted its approach to encouraging direct negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario. Even if the idea of autonomy is not new, The Moroccan Proposal for substantial Autonomy is the first, and the only practical proposed framework for a political solution, and from it the two sides can craft a final agreement. It preserves Moroccan sovereignty, but gives the Western Sahara sufficient autonomy to become effectively self-governing. The project consists of giving Western Sahara a substantial autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty. According to the autonomy proposal sahraouis will have an elected regional parliament, with power over local policies in terms of management, and decisions, and president of a local government, the right to create local laws, as long as they do not contradict Morocco’s constitution, regional judiciary to rule regarding local laws, and control of local police, schools, economy, infrastructure, taxation and housing. The Kingdom of Morocco would control external defence and foreign relations, national judiciary, religious affairs, with King Mohamed VI as the highest religious authority.
    The Moroccan proposal is an answer to the UN Security Council resolution and to the constant international community appeals for a political solution to the Western Sahara issue, as it is a fruit of national and international consultations. The King Mohamed VI supervised closely the process of drawing up such a proposal that guarantees peace, security, and stability in the region of North Africa on one hand, and gives the Western Sahara sufficient autonomy to become effectively self-governing on the other hand. The UN charter, the ultimate international jurisprudence stipulates that self-determination must take into account the territory integrity and unity, so autonomy remains one of the best solutions for self –determination, this type of substantial autonomy exists in the most highly developed countries across the world.
    The philosophy behind the Moroccan proposal is that Sahraouis claims will be satisfied, and Algeria will keep its dignity, provided Morocco remains sovereign over its southern territories .
    Although both Algeria and Polisario refused the Moroccan proposal, before it was submitted to the UN, and even before finding out about the content of it .the secretary general personal former envoy for Sahara Van Walsum recognized ( in his press conference at the headquarter of the UN , after presenting his report to the UN chief) the role of Algeria in the conflict “Algeria has in this whole dossier (Sahara issue) played an absolutely pre-eminent ,dominant role ever since1975” this is the first time that a senior UN official dealing directly with the western Sahara issue that recognized explicitly in a diplomatic Worthing the extent of Algerians direct involvement in the western Sahara dispute ,and even in the decision making on behalf of the separatist movement called Polisario while Algiers keeps insisting that “it is not a part in the conflict”.
    The conflict impede the construction of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), hindering any form of agreement between the neighbouring countries, while keeping sahraoui families from returning home to live among their own .It also created a center of tension in the north west of Africa encouraged by the proliferation of human traffic, in particular in the form of clandestine immigration, weapons trafficking, drugs, the deviation of goods in the camps as well as the appearance of terrorism.
    The UN charter, the ultimate international jurisprudence stipulates that self-determination must take into account the territory integrity and unity, so autonomy remains one of the best solutions for self –determination, this type of substantial autonomy exists in the most highly developed countries across the world

    3 -The lack of real democratic practices in the refugee camps in Tindouf reflects undoubtedly The manner of arbitrary arrest were carried out, according to “an independent committee of inquiry into allegations of violations of human rights, crimes, abuses and various other irregularities brought against the Polisario front” some victims were brought to the polisario’s administration complex at Rabouny, not far from Tindouf, or to the offices of the polisario military security. They were then transferred in secret to places of detention and torture, mainly to Rachid prison, known within sahraoui refugees as the black prison. Others were arrested at work, during their military training, or in their camps.generaly speaking the victims of arbitrary arrest were transferred to Rachid prison in early evening or at night, hands tied behind the back, eyes blindfolded or the whole face hooded to prevent recognition of their captors or the place they were being taken, at this particular stage detainees were not informed of the charges against them.

    During the last three decades torture was used by the military services of the Polisario with the aim to forcing detainees to confess to being agents to foreign countries, or involved in any forms of conspiracy. According to the independent committee of inquiry into violations of human rights by the Polisario, it is in possession of a detailed list of 43 people who died under torture, or as a direct consequence of the ill-treatments suffered. This list needs to be completed, and up dated as the figure seems to be higher than what it is disclosed. A number of witnesses who fled to Morocco described the phenomenon of “summary executions” without any legal procedures, detainees who were spared from being executed, were not informed of their conviction or any charges. They were in most cases subject to forced labour, during the period of torture, prisoners could easily experienced days without food. Medical care is in practical terms inexistent.

    4-Sahraoui refugees in the Tindouf camps depend on humanitarian aid donated by
    Numerous UN organizations, in addition to international non-governmental
    Organizations. It is believed and even proved that much of the humanitarian aid does
    not reach the refugees, instead it is In most cases sold on the black market in
    neighbouring countries by the Polisario. In this Respect the international community
    have called in numerous occasions for the Implementation of a census, and an audit
    system to make sure that the management of the Humanitarian aid is transparent. Both
    Algeria, and Polisario has refused to allow independent Oversight of its management of
    humanitarian assistance. Important quantities of diverted International humanitarian
    aid sent for refugees in Tindouf camps have been found on the Markets in Algeria, and
    Mauritania, but also in Mali and Niger, some still in their original Packaging. The sums
    recovered would be used to finance the front, and also its leader’s way Of life, at the
    expense of sahraoui refugees. These diversions according to the report of the US
    Committee for refugees published in year 2000 “Humanitarian workers have reported
    that more than 30% of the children from 5 to 12 years old were underfed, more than
    70% of the Children of less than 5 years old suffered from anaemia”, in its 2001 report
    the committee announced “more than 15000 children are in need of shoes”, and finally
    in its 2003 report, its Said “some donors in private, have asked for a control of the
    distribution of food to Make sure that the political and military leaders were not
    diverting the aid”

    5-To make sure that Sahraoui refugees, whether they are free or not to leave the camps in Tindouf Human rights Watch interviewed tens of Sahraouis , and asked them questions such as whether they used the official border crossing or took a clandestine route ; whether they told others of their plans or intended destination . according to the latest report of Human rights watch, of December, 2008, under the title “Human rights in western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps” former camp residents now living in western Sahara region confirmed that when they left the camps they concealed their ultimate destination, fearing that Polisario would block their departure if it became known"(human rights report , december , 2008) these same individuals for the most part said they kept their plans secret from others in the camps. They said they did so not only out of fear that the Polisario might prevent them from leaving, but also because the prevailing feeling in the camps is that is shameful to opt for life " under Moroccan occupation" "They taught us to hate Morocco from when we were young, that the Moroccans would torture and mistreat you" said a former Polisario official who left the camps by the end of 2006 and settled in Al-Ayoun , and this is how he left according to a statement he made to Human rights watch : " I left my wife , child, and six other relatives , in a truck . The owner of the truck is an officer in the security forces. When we reached the border post, he talked to the guards, and there was no problem; my parents and brothers are still in the camps, they have suffered no reprisals, because we left. The authorities came to my father and asked where i went, and he answered Mauritania, and that was it. (human rights watch interview, El –Ayoun, march 8, 2008 . The source asked to remain anonymous, fearing reprisals against family members who where still inn the refugee camps)
    Hamra checkpoint, the main Algerian- Mauritanian border point, is a long drive on extremely difficult roads from the main cluster of refugee camps in Tindouf. Polisario and Algerian guards the checkpoint, registering the ID’s of drivers and passengers, sahraouis told human rights watch, if the guards asked the reason for their travel, sahraouis leaving for Moroccan controlled areas have to lie, explaining that they were travelling to Mauritania to visit relatives or for other purposes. The guards then allowed them to pass. Some Sahraoui refugees in Tindouf said that they have to obtain an authorization from the Polisario leadership headquarters in Rabouni camp to leave only to Mauritania; others said they got the approval at the border, provided they mention that they are actually going for a visit to Mauritania.
    Yeslim Ould Ismail Ould el-Melkhi, a pharmacist, who left the Tindouf camps in April 2007, put it this way: “ it is pretty chaotic situation in the camps . Everybody is preoccupied with trying to provide for his basic needs, if you want to leave, you just make the necessary arrangements, and you head for the Hamra checkpoint. You show your ID, they write your name down, and they let you pass. They understand the problems that people face in the camps. You must not tell them you are going to Morocco, but otherwise they do not care if you leave “(human rights watch interview with Yeslim ould el-Melkhi, foum el –oued , march 5, 2008)
    Abdellah Mala’ainine, who left the camps for Morocco in 2006, also said that leaving was not hard, provided you keep being discreet about your destination: “you keep the fact that you might want to go to Morocco to yourself, otherwise you might be seen as inciting others” ( human rights watch interview with Abdullah Mala’ainine, El –Ayoun , march 5, 2008)
    Another possible way to leave the Tindouf refugee camps is the UN –administered program of family visits. This program involves flying Sahraoui families from the Western sahara region to the Tindouf refugee camps and vice versa, for visits lasting five days. According to statistics provided by the UNHCR, the program arranged visits for 6638 sahraouis between its launch on March 2004 and October 3, 2008. Almost half of this total traveled from the Tindouf camps to the Moroccan –controlled territory, had chosen to remain rather than return, according to the UNHCR. (Human rights watch telephone interview with Sergio call- Norena, UNHCR chief of operators for the Western Sahara, may 9, 2008 . Calle- Norena left this post later 2008).
    The process of defection from the Tindouf camps and rallying to Morocco started in practical terms at the end of the fighting, hundreds of sahraoui refugees have decided to leave Tindouf and to return to Morocco, among them political and military leaders, head of tribes, and hundreds of Polisario army officers of all levels. This situation, which is due in part to the failure to reach a settlement as well as the realities of the four refugee camps in the Tindouf area, has led to what many Sahraouis denounce as the concentration of power in thee hands of few political stagnation, and lack of transparency , freedom of speech and movement, in this respect the brother of El Ouali Ould Mustapha Sayed, the Polisario’s first secretary general expressed on 31 October 2006 serious misgivings about the current leadership : “ many sahraoui officials alongside of simple soldiers, fled to Morocco because they could no longer stand the chaotic, static, and unjust status quo …. Some even say that this exodus towards Morocco and other destinations suits the Polisario’s leadership and that, in some ways, they encourage it. This because the Polisario’s leadership refuses to change its practices, reviews its policies and positions, or responds to the totality or at least to the majority of its critic’s claims”( see “arretons l’hemorragie” at Sayed38.htlm)
    Although the Polisario is making sure that no refugee is allowed to flee the Tindouf camps particularly to Morocco, it seems that the number has increased over the five years or so , in this respect it is worth mentioning the following among others , as nearly one hundred Sahraouis have returned to Morocco during the last week of February 2008 to Morocco from Tindouf camps , three groups consisting of several persons that took part in Gjijimat congress held during December 2008 in Tifariti region, in the Sahara, these refugees accompanied with 20 children, arrived in the border town of El Karkrat ( 380 km south of Dakhla), in response to the late Hassan ii call “ homeland clement and merciful”, convinced , according to their statements, that the Moroccan autonomy initiative in he region of the Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty offers promising prospects that meet the aspirations of the region’s people and the consecration of unity and development . Some of these of people expressed their joy and happiness to have returned to the motherland and their support to the autonomy project proposed by Morocco. They said that their return to the motherland is part of the renewal of their allegiance to his majesty king Mohammed vi ( a French- speaking daily “ aujourd’hui le Maroc” reported on Wednesday 27/12/2007)

    5-In October 2004, the African Union established its African Center for the Study and Research on Terrorism in Algiers. In essence, this center is intended to serve as a medium for cooperation among all member states in the continent's fight against its endemic terrorist threat. Since its formation, however, the center has been plagued by a number of deficiencies, not the least of which is its inability to secure an individual to assume the directorship. Aside from the usual troubles the AU has in establishing such centres, the fundamental obstacle is membership. As Kurt Shillinger states, the center's effectiveness is contingent on its ability to build "strong cooperative ties between the center in Algiers and the key states where concerns about terrorism and capacity to respond converge… This requires resolving the conflict over Western Sahara in order to integrate Morocco—the only African state not in the AU—into continental counter-terrorism strategies" (Business Day (Johannesburg), October 7, 2005).

    The non-involvement of Morocco is excellent news to the Salafi insurgents operating in the Sahel. Not only is intelligence not being circulated among key interlocutors, such as Algeria and Morocco, but these same countries would remain unlikely collaborators in counter-terrorism operations. This point was underlined by U.S. Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism Henry Crumpton when he made a number of very poignant remarks toward the end of his February 2006 speech in Algiers, noting Morocco's absence from the AU and the crucial role the kingdom can play in helping resolve regional security issues.

    The Madrid commuter bombings may prove to be the single event that brings about the resolution to the Western Sahara issue. The attacks, perpetrated by North Africans residing in Spain raised awareness—both in Spain and Morocco—of the threat posed to Spain by North African Salafi-Jihadists. In response to this and the almost daily news reports of illegal North Africans migrating to Spain from the Western Sahara, Madrid will likely advocate a just and widely acceptable solution to help stabilize its southern border.

    Although close cooperation between Algiers and Rabat cannot be assumed initially, a widely acceptable Western Sahara resolution will significantly contribute to a thawing of relations between these two capitals. In any case, Maghrebi security is certain to be the primary beneficiary; with Morocco integrated into regional counter-terrorism operations and intelligence-sharing, Salafi-Jihadist groups will be faced with a united front. No longer will they be able to operate across the region's borders with impunity, or access weapons, finances and auxiliary personnel with the same level of ease.

    Algeria and to a far lesser extent, Morocco were hard hit by waves of terror attacks carried out by AQIM, al-Qaida in the Maghreb. Developing and promoting stability and security in each country and enhancing prospects for greater political freedoms and broader economic growth will be a n important step towards the fight against terrorism .The issue of terrorism remains vital to the economic and development of the region's future to promote inter-Maghrebi cooperation, trade and unity. With some foresight the leaders of the region should seriously look into launching a 'Benelux' type model that would permit the five countries to excel from trade, business, education and even defence.
    In 1989 the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) was created. However, it was frozen in 1994 as a result of diverging political views between Morocco and Algeria over the Western Sahara,
    Based in neighbouring Algeria, the Polisario has been at the core of tense relations between the Algerians and the Moroccans. The need to resolve the conflict over the Western Sahara is the key to the door of regional cooperation, and the fight of terrorism which should be eradicated.

  10. Anonymous12:02 PM

    Obama supports the UN- led negotiations to WS issue

    Polisario has launched a new meaningless and badly calculated Propaganda, interpreting the letter sent by the newly elected American president Barack Obama to King Mohamed VI as a shift in the American foreign policy towards the Western Sahara issue by backing a Polisario State. This desperate media propaganda was published in an American newspaper ‘World Tribune .com’. An article without any mention of the name of the author, nor his sources. The unknown author based his unconvincing analysis on “diplomatic sources” without naming his diplomatic sources, to make his article genuine and objective.

    In fact there is no mention whatsoever in Obama’s letter about a shift of the American administration towards the Sahara issue, nor the creation of an independent state in the area, contrary to what the Polisario and its supporters propaganda machine are trying hard to prove through the electronic media .

    In his letter Obama gave priority to the Middle east crisis , and the role that King of Morocco can play being the chairman of “Jerusalem committee”, but as far as WS is concerned the American president said the following : “ I realize the importance of the Western Sahara issue for you , your kingdom and all the populations who have suffered because of the conflict, I share your commitment to the UN-led negotiations as the appropriate framework leading to a mutually accepted solution, and I hope that Christopher Ross an experienced Diplomat, with a substantial experience in the area, will promote a constructive dialogue between parties concerned” he added : “ My government will work with yours and other parties in the Region , in order to achieve an outcome that meets the people’s need for transparent governance , confidence in the rule of law, and equal administration of justice”.

    As to the US interests in the area, contrary to the Propagandist article which appeared on the pages of “world Tribune .com” last week, the US interests are ranging from the region strategic geographic position on the Mediterranean, to the economic opportunities and resources it offers to the US, in addition to the treaths posed by the increase of terrorism in the area of North Africa.

    The new American administration is in the process of elaborating a policy by taking the lead in promoting a resolution to the WS conflict, based on the proposal of a large autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty now on the table at the UN, and supported by a bipartisan consensus in the US congress. This is the conclusion reached by " Potomac institute for policy studies" and " the Johns Hopkins University "in a 15 page report handed over to the White house and state department on the 31st march 2009 , titled : “ Why the Maghreb matters“.
    As the Obama administration considers its priority in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama× and his administration know that regional integration in North Africa will support the US interests, which are vital to the strategic pursuit of the region’s stability, security and economic aims, but regional integration can not be realized without resolving the WS conflict. Given the current position of The US administration, that substantial autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only realistic solution to encourage regional economy, and to increase counter- terrorism cooperation that will bring prosperity and opportunity to the peoples of the Maghreb, and security for US interests.


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